Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Journalist Chris Mooney is feeling his way towards an understanding of the psychology of politics

In his article below he has acknowledged that there are two sides to the debate over the merits and demerits of conservatism and notes that conservatives as a whole are markedly happier than Leftists, which is a considerable step forwards for him. Perhaps the best indication of his naivety is that he sees the debate as going back "well over a decade". In fact it has been going on for over 60 years. He still has a lot of catching up to do.

His basic mistake below is one common throughout science -- interpreting a correlation as if you JUST KNOW the direction of the causal arrow. He assumes that conservatism makes you happy when there is a much stronger case for arguing that happiness makes you conservative.

That is most easily seen if you look at the converse of conservatism: Leftism. What is ABSOLUTELY distinctive about Leftism? Dissatisfaction. They seem to like very little in the world about them and are never satisfied. Regardless of what they have already achieved, they are always wanting to change something -- whether by legislation or by revolution. So conservatives are simply people who don't have such motivations. There are a lot of things that conservatives would like to change -- such as Obamacare and affirmative action, but they don't have that PERVASIVE dissatisfaction with the world about them that Leftists do. In psychological terms, Leftists are maladjusted and conservatives are not.

Poor old Mooney is still relying on the ludicrous Kruglansky work for much of his understanding. One hopes that as he explores the world of psychological research, he realizes what a crock it is. Kruglanski argues that conservatives are less "open", a question that was originally addressed by Rokeach in 1960.

Another energetic proponent of that view is Van Hiel. But nobody has managed to prove what Mooney believes. See here for Van Hiel and here for problems in the work of Rokeach.

Rokeach in particular might be something of an embarrassment to Mooney in that he argued that closed-mindedness is equally found on both the Left and the Right. And research with general population samples using Rokeach's methods bears that out. Given the problems in Rokeach's measurement methods, however, the question is best regarded as unresolved. Mooney would be wise to forget the whole idea.

Since Mooney mentioned it, perhaps a brief comment on the Napier & Jost paper is in order. They conclude that "the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality". You could, however, quite reasonably replace the quite loaded psychological term "rationalization" with "acceptance" and get a rather different impression. Once again you find that conservatives are well adjusted to the world as it is and Leftists are not.

Mooney ends up concluding that conservatism is "somnambulant" -- i.e. that conservatives are happy only because they are sleepwalking through the word, unaware of the realities of it. I myself once tried to assess that proposition by constructing a measure of "realism" but gave up because I could see no way of doing it in a non-ideological way. If Mooney has any evidence for his assertion, I would therefore be delighted to see it.
Conservatism makes you happy

In general, political conservatives haven’t been very pleased with a slew of scientific attempts — sometimes dating back well over a decade — to psychoanalyze their beliefs and behavior. Indeed, some on the right wrongly interpret these analyses as implying that conservatives have “bad brains” or a “mental defect.” Yet if psychology-of-politics research is really a veiled attack on the right, then why does it contain so many findings that cast conservatives in a positive light?

Chief among these, perhaps, is the discovery that conservatives, across countries, tend to be just plain happier people than liberals are. That’s not bad news for the right — it’s seriously bad news for the left.

Indeed, the left-right “happiness gap” is no small matter. In a 2006 Pew Survey, for instance, 47 percent of conservative Republicans said they were “very happy,” compared with just 28 percent of liberal Democrats. Furthermore, the Pew Survey found that this result could not simply be attributed to the seemingly obvious cause: differences in income levels between the left and the right. Rather, for every income group in the study, conservative Republicans were happier than Democrats.

The fascinating question is why this is the case. The left-right happiness research was recently singled out in a New York Times op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, who suggested that conservatives’ subjectively greater sense of personal happiness may be attributable to factors like marriage and religious faith. In other words, married and religious people tend to be happier, and conservatives are more likely to be both. That seems to make a lot of sense … or does it?

In truth, this analysis fails to peer very far beneath the surface. There is every reason to suspect that there may be something deeper, inherent to political conservatives, that makes them more likely to be married, religious, happy and a great deal of other things besides.

What might it be? Well, let’s start with the body of well-documented personality differences between people who opt for the political left, and people who opt for the political right. Using the well-established “Big Five” personality scale, conservatives and liberals differ on at least three out of five major personality traits that have implications for their personal happiness.

First, one striking finding is that conservatives tend to be less neurotic — or, more emotionally stable — than liberals. It is part of the inherent definition of neuroticism that one is less happy — more fretful, more depressed. Liberals, then, don’t just worry about the poor, and the rights of those different from themselves — it appears that they worry more, period, than conservatives do.

Although it has a smaller effect, conservatives also tend toward more extraversion in some personality studies. That means they probably make more friends and feel more comfortable in groups and communities. They’re more sociable. Once again, this probably helps confer a subjective sense of greater happiness.

But perhaps most significant, personality research shows that conservatives tend to be less open, exploratory people than liberals are. Indeed, based on a large body of research by University of Maryland social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, conservatives tend to have a higher “need for cognitive closure,” meaning that they are uncomfortable with ambiguity and prefer to seize on and hold fixed beliefs and views. And if you think being more closed-minded makes you less happy … well, think again. Instead, it appears that the relationship runs in the opposite direction.

The need for closure is often interpreted very negatively — understandably so. But if it has an upside, it may well be the happiness and peace of mind that it confers. Conservatives tend to be more assured in their views and confident in them; thus, they have less need to agonizingly question them. They know their place in the world and aren’t troubled over it. “It’s kind of a peaceful bliss, cognitively speaking,” explains Kruglanski.

Furthermore, the need for closure — for certainty, fixity — may underlie much else about the right. Kruglanski notes, for instance, that there’s a known relationship between closure and religiosity. “Religion or any comprehensive belief system is one that provides you answers to everything — and therefore belief and happiness,” he explains.

Finally, there is the related argument that the conservative tendency to rationalize politically or economically unequal social systems — to overlook how the other half is forced to live, either through simple dismissiveness, or affirmation of the fairness of free markets and meritocracies — also confers happiness. In his New York Times op-ed, Brooks dismissed this argument, associated with New York University social psychologist John Jost, but that’s not so easy to do. In a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Science, Jost and Jaime Napier showed that conservatives were happier than liberals in nine countries beyond the United States (including Germany, Spain and Sweden) — and further demonstrated, through statistical analyses, that the rationalization of inequality was a key part of the explanation. “Meritocratic beliefs account for the association between political orientation and subjective well-being to a signi´Čücant degree,” wrote Napier and Jost.

The upshot of this research, to my mind, is that it provides a huge wake-up call to liberals who would dismiss conservatism, and their conservative brethren, without understanding this ideology’s appeal or what its adherents are getting out of it. Overall, the happiness research suggests that conservatism is giving something to people that liberalism is not — community, stability, certainty, and perhaps, in Jost’s words, an “emotional buffer” against all the unfairness in the world.

Knowing this, one still may not want the type of somnambulant happiness that conservatism conveys (I certainly don’t). But it would be foolhardy to mistake its appeal. The world is hard and cruel and perhaps, as predominantly liberal atheists suspect, ultimately meaningless. In this context, it appears, political conservatism is doing much more than political liberalism to get people through the day.



'Fundamentally Transforming' the Military

In Lone Survivor, a chilling, firsthand account of the loss of eleven members of the Navy’s elite Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) Team and eight Army aviators, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell describes the fateful decision that led to disaster for him and death for his comrades. It came down to a judgment call about whether to risk prosecution and jail-time for doing whatever it took to complete their mission, or to allow three Afghan goatherds to rat out his unit to the Taliban.

When Luttrell cast the deciding vote to turn loose the farmers who had stumbled upon him and three other SEALs shortly after they had been dropped behind enemy lines to take down a particularly dangerous Taliban leader, he described the thought-process:

“If we kill these guys, we have to be straight about it. Report what we did. We can't sneak around this….Their bodies will be found, the Taliban will use it to the max. They’ll get it in the papers, and the U.S. liberal media will attack us without mercy. We'll almost certainly be charged with murder….”

Such concerns prompted Luttrell to make the call to release the goatherds, setting in train calamity for his buddies and sixteen others dispatched to rescue them from the massive Taliban assault that ensued. It turns out those concerns were well-founded, as was most recently demonstrated in a case before the U.S. Military Court of Appeals. By a 3-2 vote, the judges outrageously determined that an Army Ranger, First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, was deemed to have no right to self-defense when he killed the Iraqi prisoner he was interrogating after the latter threw a concrete block at him and tried to seize his firearm. Unless he is pardoned, Lt. Behenna will remain incarcerated for the next twelve years.

Unfortunately, under President Obama, service personnel’s rising fears of being prosecuted for acting to protect themselves and their missions are but one of many ways in which themilitary is being, to use his now-infamous turn of phrase, “fundamentally transformed.” Consider a few examples:

* Losing wars: Few things can have a more corrosive effect on morale and esprit de corps of the armed forces than being ordered to participate in and sacrifice – not least by risking life and limb – in protracted conflicts, only to have political authorities throw in the towel. Add in the repeated combat tours pulled by many servicemen and women, with all that entails for both them and their families, and you have a formula for disaster for the U.S. military.

* Budget cuts: Matters are made much worse by the sense that the military is being asked to pay more than its fair share of the burden associated with deficit-reduction. Even though defense spending accounts for approximately 20% of the budget, the Pentagon has been required to absorb roughly 50% of the cuts, while entitlements have been entirely spared.

The roughly $800 billion in defense spending already excised or in the works is denying our men and women in uniform the modern, properly maintained and qualitatively superior equipment they need to wage war safely and successfully on our behalf. The next $500 billion in reductions – which, all other things being equal, are to go into effect in January – will have, in the words Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Demsey, a “catastrophic” effect.

* A defective Counter-Insurgency (COIN) strategy: [As documented in Part 9 of the Center for Security Policy’s online curriculum, “The Muslim Brotherhood in America: The Enemy Within” (,] the effort to win hearts and minds in places like Iraq and Afghanistan has exposed our troops unnecessarily to danger: They are being obliged not to wear protective eyewear and body armor, at risk literally to life and limb. They are ordered to honor their hosts in visits with local elders by consuming foods offered, despite the fact that doing so can subject them to lifelong affliction by parasites and diseases. They must observe rules of engagement that restrict use of their firearms and deny them air cover and artillery support in circumstances where it can mean the difference between living and dying.

Worse yet, our troops are seen by the enemy in these and other ways to be submitting to the latter’s doctrine of shariah. According to that supremacist code, its adherents are compelled when confronted with evidence they are winning, to redouble their efforts to make us “feel subdued.” This generally translates into more violence against our troops and us, not less.

* Assault on the culture of the Military: Last, but not least, President Obama’s use of the military as a vehicle for advancing the radical homosexual agenda in the larger society has demonstrated for many in uniform civilian indifference to the unique attributes of the armed forces. That message can only have been reinforced by the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing fraudulent claims to military decorations as protected free speech.

Unfortunately, these sorts of assaults on the U.S. military are likely to “fundamentally transform” it, all right. Perhaps that tranformation will manifest itself, among other ways, by precipitating the collapse of the All-Volunteer Force, as many of those who are currently serving decline to do so, and fewer and fewer new, high-quality recruits enlist. We can ill-afford such an Obama legacy in an increasingly dangerous world.



The States need to unite against the Federal behemoth

Congress has invariably sought to expand the reach and power of the federal government through one piece of legislation after another. When challenged, the courts have for the most part upheld said legislation. Then the executive branch goes on to expand federal powers even more through the creation and implementation of regulations. When regulation and promulgation are challenged, the courts, again for the most part, grant their imprimatur. The system has been crafted over a long period and is designed to create, promote and preserve the power of the federal government. The players have little or no desire to restrain themselves. For the most part they are enablers of one another. And partisan bickering is often no more than diversion. Much the same could be said for the “bipartisanship” ruse.

This system, as it stands, is unchallengeable by private citizens or groups. Go along or go to jail … even if you didn’t really break any laws. Few have the time, money and stamina to mount a serious challenge against the federal government in court. And even if you do win, the victory may prove Pyrrhic. Just ask Lord Black. And it doesn’t mean that down the road the government won’t go after some other poor bastard for essentially the same thing. What we have here is a tyranny of, by and for a legal system that to a great extent serves no useful purpose other than to perpetuate itself. That’s why with 5 percent of the world’s population we have 50 percent of the world’s attorneys.

If political constitutionalism is to be anything more than a catch phrase, it will have to be because a substantial majority of the states, with the support and on the behalf of state residents, don the Constitutional defender mantle, and as a group challenge the federal government, i.e., Civil War II. It won’t be pretty, but it need not be bloody. That this is the direction whither we’re moving is indicated by such state actions as Arizona’s illegal alien legislation, Florida’s refusal to stop purging its voter rolls of fraudulent registrants, and several states’ proclamation of their intent to not fully implement Obamacare. That’s probably why Attorney General Eric Holder has been so vigorously challenging these assaults on federal prerogative.

The states would do well to get organized and coordinated. First order of business would be for the state parties, especially the Republicans, to become financially detached from the national party. Without control of their own funds, the state parties cannot act independently of the national. Reincorporating under a different name, for example “Texas Independent Republicans” or a similar moniker may also be necessary. Then, along with the Tea Party, and whoever else is of like mind, get state legislators elected who will vote for the convening of Constitutional Convention II. Without some such bold action I have no faith whatsoever that there will ever be any substantive improvements in the functioning of our government. The Constitution may very well need updating whether or not it’s “living”, but certainly not by the courts or executive orders or the bureaucratic fiats that have, to a large extent, been the case so far. After over 200 years of floating about in briny political and legal seas, the Constitution seems bit barnacle encrusted. Perhaps it’s time to pull it out of the water for a good scraping.

Who knows, we may even end up with a bit of originalism back in our public debate.


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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